Psalm Study: Psalm 12

Dear Reader,

This is the latest in my chronicle of our psalm studies. For an introduction of sorts see this post on Psalm 8.

Click here (opens a Google doc) for my translation and arrangement of Psalm 12.  I have given some questions on the second page but these are mainly for you to use in directly your conversation after you have all had a chance to analyze the psalm on your own.

The first step, as always, is to sit down with your colored pencils and mark up the psalm. Look for repeated words and ideas. Look for contrasts. Look for parallel lines. Really, whatever you notice is fine. This is a “no wrong answers” sort of exercise.

After about 10 minutes, call your kids back together and ask them what they have noticed. My well-practiced kids started with which lines they thought were parallel. We agreed that this psalm has lots of pairs of parallel lines — 3&4, 5&6, etc. There was some dispute about what to do with lines 9 through 11. Notice that there are an odd number of lines here as I have divided up the psalm. We agreed that this is unsettling in an otherwise so orderly psalm. But remember that these line divisions are arbitrary (as are the ones in your Bible). If I had divided line 9 into two parts: “From the plunder of the poor” and “from the cry of the needy” the parallelism would have worked out much better. Lesson 1: don’t be afraid to disagree with how things are laid out. Verse divisions were added later and even then they do not always correspond to where a sentence or thought should end. Feel free to play around with them.

We did have one contrary opinion. My oldest thought that lines 2 and 17 were really parallel to each other. Note that they both end with “sons of men.” They also express similar ideas. I introduced the term “bracketing” to describe what is going on here. Often a psalm will have similar ideas, perhaps even exact repetition near the beginning and end. These verses function as bookends to the psalm. Note that understanding these lines this way need not be in contradiction to the parallelism we saw. Both things can be true.

My younger son noted that there is a lot in this psalm about people saying things and the mouth area. He couldn’t say anything at that time about why he thought that was so but I said we’d get back to it in a bit.

We then proceeded with the questions on page 2. We’d already covered “what did you notice?” so we went on to question #2: “What kind of Psalm is this?” One child said “praise” but her answer was rejected in favor of “a cry for help.” I told them this is usually termed a “psalm of lament” (they really should have known that word though, pros that they are). We noted that the psalm ends with the wicked and that there are “ongoing troubles” (younger son’s words). The tone, they said, is  one of sorrow or lament (now they know the word).

Question 3 asks what the wicked do in this psalm and how they are described. Our answers: worthless, “sons of men.” My oldest supplied the answer his brother couldn’t earlier: “sons of men” shows their connection with Adam (see the footnote; the word is the same: adam). As Adam sinned so they follow in his footsteps. Of course this phrase can be used various ways in the Bible but I think the connection to Adam and his sin is intentional here (see question 7). When asked what specifically the wicked do, what their sons are, they said talking too much, flattering, being vain. We discussed the “walking about” in line 16. Though it sounds Australian a good translation in English might be “prowling.”

What does the Lord do? He speaks, will save and guard the poor and needy, and cuts off lips (they liked the gore this implies though I don’t think it’s literal). We noted again that what the Lord does is in the future — He will save and guard. Salvation has not come yet in this psalm. We also compared the Lord’s speaking and that of the wicked (see question 6). The Lord’s words are pure and firm. God created through speech. The wicked’s words are smooth and deceitful.

Question 5 gets at two Hebrew idioms. It took them a minute to get it but to speak “great things” is to boast, i.e. they speak great thimgs of themselves. Smooth speech is flattering (we have to define that for my youngest). It is smooth because it says what people want to hear.

Now it’s your turn — what do you see in Psalm 12?

Nebby

 

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